GNU: A new era for SA

Friday, July 5, 2024

As the new Cabinet of the seventh administration gets to grips with the workings of their various portfolios - it has been advised to place ordinary South Africans at the heart of the administration.

“Show the ordinary South Africans that their well-being is the ultimate goal and at the heart of those running government and the administration,” Extraordinary Professor at the Department of Political Sciences at the University of Pretoria, Henning Melber, told SAnews.

Melber’s comments follow on the announcement on Sunday, 30 June 2024, of the new National Executive of the seventh administration by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The much-anticipated announcement is the result of the National and Provincial Elections that were held on 29 May. For the first time in democratic South Africa’s history, that election did not result in an outright majority for a single party to lead the country for the next five years.

The will of the people

In those initial days following from the point where voting took place, up to the announcement of the results, ordinary citizens were wondering what would happen next. After all, we were accustomed to living in a country that since the advent of democracy, was led by a single majority party.

However, from the hotly contested elections themselves to the announcement of the election results, peace was the order of the day. This also extended to the period of the swearing in of Members of Parliament (MPs) and other MPs at a later stage, as well as the election of National Assembly (NA) Speaker Thoko Didiza and National Council of Provinces (NCOP) Chairperson Refilwe Mtsweni-Tsipane. The election and inauguration of Cyril Ramaphosa as President and head of government of the seventh administration was also peaceful.

An acceptance of the will of the people at the ballot box also played an important part in where the country finds itself today with the seventh administration’s Government of National Unity (GNU) starting to take shape.

This GNU, however, differs from the one that South Africa had, following the seminal elections of 1994 that saw the African National Congress (ANC) go into a GNU with two other political parties, despite having won an outright majority. The current GNU comprises 11parties across the political spectrum.

These parties are: the African National Congress (ANC), Democratic Alliance (DA), Patriotic Alliance, Inkatha Freedom Party, Good Party, Pan Africanist Congress of Azania, Freedom Front Plus, United Democratic Movement, Al Jama-ah, Rise Mzansi and the United Africans Transformation. 


In an interview with SAnews, Melber further advised parties involved in the GNU to “collaborate with members of other parties based on trust; seeking to improve efficiency in service delivery.”

With this rather eventful week drawing to a close, South Africans not only witnessed the announcement of the new Cabinet, but also the swearing in of the new executive, including Deputy President Paul Mashatile as well as the induction programme of new MPS in the Western Cape.

And yes, it did take some time to get to where we are now as a country, but we must remember that Rome was not built in a day.

In his address to the nation on Sunday, President Ramaphosa acknowledged the length of time it took to put together the administration.

Confidence vs Time

However, Melber points out that given the different elements at play, the process in truth did not take too much time.

He said that given the rather unusual, if not complicated blend of parties who needed to secure common ground, and agreeing on an acceptable power sharing arrangement in terms of portfolios -, this process had actually not taken that long.

“And it was a necessary investment in building a minimum degree of confidence and trust as a point of departure. There are democracies who for months (among others The Netherlands, Sweden) if not years (Belgium) had not a proper government and were neither less politically stable. Many observers at least in the Western democracies were hoping for such a power-sharing arrangement and did not expect this to happen much faster. Building a reliable collaboration between political parties so different in their programmes needs time,” Melber explained.

A new era

In his inauguration address on 19 June 2024, President Ramaphosa described the GNU as “the beginning of a new era” adding that it requires a common mission, which is anchored in safeguarding national unity, peace, stability, inclusive economic growth, non-racialism and non-sexism.

Asked about his thoughts on the GNU, Melber said: “Under the given circumstances of the election result, the decision to form a GNU seemed to be a wise and considerate move, aiming to accommodate a broad middle for political stability in a government, in which the ANC remains the major party.”

The announcement of the new Cabinet also came with changes in government departments that involve the merger of the Ministries of Electricity and Energy as well as the announcement of a separate Ministry of Mineral and Petroleum Resources. The President also announced the separation of the Ministry of Agriculture from the Ministry of Land Reform and Rural Development, among others.

“This is a necessary adjustment to accommodate divergent interests seeking influence in governance. If in the end - despite some further bloating of the structures - it provides a reliable operational structure to make improvements in delivery - it is a well justified investment,” said the Professor.

South Africa’s future under a GNU is now underway with Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni having held the first media briefing of the seventh administration on Thursday, 4 July 2024.

At that briefing, the Minister outlined the process that would be followed to set government’s priorities and programme of action for the seventh administration. These said the Minister, will be articulated in the Medium-Term Strategic Framework (MTSF), which is normally guided by the election manifesto of the governing party. However, in this case of the GNU, a unique case for government, this will be guided by the election manifestoes of the 11 parties to the GNU. 

To give effect to the signed Statement of Intent as signed by parties to the GNU, the Forum of South African Directors-General (FOSAD), chaired by the Director-General in The Presidency, has undertaken the work of analysing the manifestoes of parties to the GNU.

After thorough scrutiny, the Directors-General will then submit a proposal for consideration and adoption at the Cabinet Lekgotla scheduled for 11-12 July.

The two-day Lekgotla will deliberate on the proposals of the Directors-General, after which the programmes and priorities of government will be announced.  

“The adopted programme of action (MTSF) will be announced by the President at the Opening of Parliament on Thursday, 18 July 2024. After the adoption of the MTSF, the individual departments will then develop their Strategic Plans linked to the MTSF and Annual Performance Plans for implementation of the MTSF targets,” explained Minister Ntshavheni.

Happiness trajectory

Following the elections and Sunday’s cabinet announcement, South Africa’s happiness trends have been on an upright trajectory.

This is according to the Gross National Happiness (GNH) index. The index is the brainchild of Professor Talita Greyling of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and Prof Stephanie Rossouw of the Auckland University of Technology, with the technical support of AFSTEREO (Pty) Ltd.

According to UJ, the GNH is the first index of its kind and measures the real-time sentiment of the country. 

“The much-anticipated announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa of the new GNU Cabinet on 30 June 2024 is being experienced positively by the South African people, as shown by the near real-time Happiness Index of the project.

“The happiness levels in South Africa have been trending upward since the election results were announced in June 2024, from 5.36 to 5.42,” the university said in a statement.

The project measures happiness in near real-time based on specific emotion words used in Google searches.  

“The GNU ensures a broad representation and a solid mandate to govern the country, contributing to higher levels of transparency, accountability, and trust in the government.  It also explains the higher happiness levels, reflecting hope for a better future,” said the university.

In analysing the positive trend in the happiness index, the team found that positive emotion words used in South Africa increased, such as “hope”, “happiness”, and “joy”.

However, there was an increase in negative emotion words such as “bad” and “afraid”, but with a positive net effect. 

“The increase in both positive and negative words is expected as it indicates the debate around the newly appointed cabinet.  Different parties criticise the portfolio allocations and the ministers appointed. The increased size of the government is also critiqued.  On the other hand, there is relief that the Cabinet was announced after almost a month of negotiations. 

“This announcement implies an agreement about power-sharing,” said the university.

Asked about whether he thinks the GNU will stick, Professor Melber is hopeful.

“I’m afraid I have misplaced my crystal ball,” he chirps.

“More seriously [though,] one hopes for the sake of South African citizens that this GNU manages to operate and serve the best interest of the people. If this construction holds, it is a win-win situation for all the parties who were able to compromise for the sake of the people and the country’s stability,” he said.